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Top 10 Plumbing Emergencies and How to Handle Them

Plumber doing plumbing emergencies - Louw Bros.

Plumbing emergencies can happen at any time. This often catches homeowners off guard and causes significant stress.

Knowing how to handle these household emergencies effectively can minimize damage and reduce repair costs. In this guide, we will share the ten plumbing emergencies and practical steps to address them.

Plumbing Emergencies #1: Burst Pipes

Burst pipes can result from freezing temperatures, corrosion, or high water pressure. Poor insulation and old piping materials also contribute to this issue.

Signs include water pooling, damp walls, and a sudden drop in water pressure.

Immediate Actions

  • Shut Off the Water: Locate the main water shut-off valve and turn it off to stop the water flow.
  • Drain the System: Open all faucets to drain the remaining water in the pipes.
  • Temporary Patch: Use pipe tape or a pipe repair clamp to seal the burst area temporarily.
  • Call a Professional: Call a licensed plumber to repair or replace the damaged pipe.

Plumbing Emergencies #2: Clogged Drains

Clogged drains are typically caused by hair, grease, soap scum, and foreign objects. Food particles and mineral buildup can also contribute to this issue.

Symptoms include slow-draining water, unpleasant odors, and gurgling sounds.

Immediate Actions

  • Use a Plunger: Make a tight seal over the drain and plunge vigorously.
  • Vinegar and Baking Soda: Pour in the baking soda and vinegar mixture, followed by hot water.
  • Avoid Chemical Cleaners: These can damage pipes if used excessively.
  • Call a Plumber: A professional plumber uses specialized tools to clear the blockage if the clog persists.

Plumbing Emergencies #3: Overflowing Toilet

Overflowing toilets can result from blockages, malfunctioning float mechanisms, or sewer line issues. Flushing non-flushable items and excessive toilet paper use are common causes.

Warning signs include rising water levels and difficulty flushing.

Immediate Actions

  • Stop the Water Supply: Turn off the valve behind the toilet to stop water flow.
  • Use a Plunger: Try to dislodge the blockage with a plunger.
  • Check the Tank: Ensure the float mechanism isn’t stuck.
  • Call a Plumber: Professional intervention is necessary for persistent issues.

Plumbing Emergencies #4: Water Heater Malfunctions

Water heater problems can be caused by sediment buildup, faulty thermostats, or broken heating elements. Aging units and poor maintenance also contribute to these malfunctions. Indicators include no hot water, strange noises, and water leaks around the heater.

Immediate Actions

  • Turn Off the Power: Switch off the circuit breaker for electric heaters. Turn off the gas supply for gas heaters.
  • Check the Thermostat: Regulate the temperature settings and notice if the heater responds.
  • Drain the Tank: Drain the water tank to remove sediment. Drain the water heater tank.
  • Call a Technician: If the problem persists, contact an expert plumber from Louw Bros to inspect and repair the heater.

Plumbing Emergencies #5: Leaky Faucets

Leaky faucets are often due to worn-out washers, seals, or O-rings. High water pressure and corrosion can aggravate these issues.

Symptoms include continuous dripping and higher water bills.

Immediate Actions

  • Turn Off the Water Supply: Shut off the valve under the sink or the primary water supply.
  • Disassemble the Faucet: Remove the handle and inspect the washer and O-rings.
  • Replace Worn Parts: Install new washers and O-rings.
  • Call a Plumber: If the leak continues, a professional plumber can identify and fix the plumbing problem.

Plumbing Emergencies #6: Sewer Line Blockages

Sewer line blockages can result from tree roots, grease buildup, or collapsed pipes. Flushing inappropriate items and aging infrastructure are common causes.

Signs include multiple drain clogs, foul odors, and sewage backups.

Immediate Actions

  • Avoid Using Drains: Avoid sinks, toilets, and other drains to prevent sewage backup.
  • Check the Cleanout: Locate and open the sewer cleanout to release pressure.
  • Call a Professional: Sewer line issues require specialized equipment and expertise to resolve.

Plumbing Emergencies #7: Sump Pump Failure

Sump pump failures can be due to power outages, clogs, or mechanical issues. Improper installation and lack of maintenance also contribute to these failures.

Indicators include a flooded basement, strange noises, and the pump running continuously.

Immediate Actions

  • Check the Power: Ensure the pump is plugged in and the circuit breaker is on.
  • Inspect the Discharge Pipe: Make sure it’s not clogged or frozen.
  • Test the Pump: Pour out the water into the sump pit to see if the pump activates.
  • Call a Technician: For persistent problems, professional repair or replacement may be needed.

Plumbing Emergencies #8: Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes occur in unheated areas during cold weather. Inadequate insulation and prolonged exposure to low temperatures are common causes.

Signs include little to no water flow and frost on exposed pipes.

Immediate Actions

  • Shut Off the Water Supply: Turn off the main water valve to prevent pressure buildup.
  • Thaw the pipes: Use a hairdryer or space heater to thaw the pipes gradually.
  • Check for Leaks: Once thawed, inspect for any cracks or leaks.
  • Call a Plumber: For severe damage, professional repair is necessary.

Plumbing Emergencies #9: Low Water Pressure

Low water pressure can result from sediment buildup, leaks, or issues with the water supply. Clogged aerators and faulty pressure regulators are also common causes.

Symptoms include weak water flow from showerheads and faucets.

Immediate Actions

  • Check All Faucets: Determine if the issue is localized or affects the entire house.
  • Clean Aerators: Remove and clean the aerators on faucets.
  • Inspect for Leaks: Look for leak signs in pipes and fixtures.
  • Call a Professional: If the problem persists, a plumber can diagnose and fix the hidden cause.

Plumbing Emergencies #10: Gas Leaks

These can result from damaged gas lines, malfunctioning appliances, or poor installation. Corrosion and accidental punctures also contribute to gas leaks.

Warning signs include a sulfuric odor, hissing sounds, and dead vegetation near gas lines.

Immediate Actions

  • Evacuate Immediately: Leave the premises and avoid using electrical devices.
  • Shut Off the Gas Supply: Turn off the primary gas valve if it’s safe.
  • Call Emergency Services: Contact your gas company and 911.
  • Do Not Re-enter: Wait for professionals to declare the area safe.


Knowing how to cope with most plumbing emergencies will save you time, money, and stress. However, while some issues can be managed with essential knowledge and tools, others require professional expertise.

For reliable and efficient plumbing services, consider Louw Bros. Contact Louw Bros today for expert plumbing assistance.

Louw Bros Plumbing: Your Trusted Partner for Comprehensive Plumbing Solutions

With branches in Cape Town, Plettenberg Bay, and Knysna, Louw Bros Plumbing offers a wide range of expert services, from leak detection and geyser installation to drainage maintenance and emergency repairs, ensuring the highest quality and customer satisfaction across South Africa.